A new wine competition that takes a different approach has revealed some fascinating results.
The inaugural Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition took place the first full week of November at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River.
While most wine competitions are open to any winery that chooses to enter any wine it wants, this one took a different twist.
We invited a dozen top wine professionals from Washington, Oregon and Idaho to participate not only by judging the wines, but also nominating them. The process started during the summer, when the wine retailers, wholesalers, restaurateurs and writers submitted the names of wines they wanted to judge. We then sent those nominations to the wineries.
The result was 250 top wines from the Northwest. The judges then met for two days to taste and evaluate the wines under blind conditions -- meaning they did not know the producers or the price of the wines.
The judges were not especially indulgent, awarding just 25 gold medals. But they also were discerning in giving more silver medals (108) than bronzes (90). And they discarded just 10 percent of the wines, far fewer than in a typical wine competition.
This week, we will look at the wines that earned the top awards in the competition, while next week, we will explore the rest of the gold medal winners.
Ask for these wines at your favorite wine merchants or contact the wineries directly.
Best in show/best red: Seven Falls 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Wahluke Slope, $15: This broadly distributed wine is made by former Columbia Crest winemaker Doug Gore and is one of the newest members of the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates family. It is sold primarily at restaurants nationwide, though it also is available via the winery website.
Best white wine: Elk Cove Vineyards 2012 Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $19: This is the quintessential Northwest Pinot Gris, and it is perhaps the most consistently outstanding example to come out of Oregon, thanks to second-generation winemaker Adam Campbell.
Best ros: Lumos Wine Co. 2012 Chiquita Pinot Noir Ros, Oregon, $20: The grace and beauty of this pink wine will come as no surprise to those familiar with winemaker Dai Crisp's work.
Best dessert wine: Capitello Wines 2011 Dolcino, Oregon, $22: The Gewrztraminer grapes for this dessert wine come from vineyards near Corvallis, Ore., and the Umpqua Valley. Winemaker Ray Walsh left 20 percent residual sugar, making this a delicious post-dinner sipper.
Best Syrah: Avennia 2011 Boushey Vineyard Arnaut Syrah, Yakima Valley, $48: Woodinville winemaker Chris Peterson excels with reds, particularly Syrah. He brought in grapes from famed Boushey Vineyard north of Grandview for this superb red.
Best Merlot: Chateau Ste. Michelle 2011 Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, $26: Canoe Ridge Estate is a prized vineyard for head winemaker Bob Bertheau, and it delivered in the cool 2011 vintage.
Best Riesling: Chehalem 2012 Three Vineyard Riesling, Willamette Valley, $22: The father-daughter winemaking team of Harry and Wynne Peterson-Nedry is crafting some of Oregon's finest Rieslings and, according to our judges, some of the best in the Northwest.
Best red blend: Pend d'Oreille Winery 2010 Bistro Rouge, Washington, $14: Longtime Sandpoint, Idaho, winemaker Stephen Meyer has been crafting this delicious and affordable red blend for some time. This example leads with Merlot (40 percent), followed by Cabernet Sauvignon (35 percent), Syrah (17 percent), Malbec (5 percent) and Cabernet Franc.
Best Pinot Noir: Stoller Family Estate 2010 Cathy's Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, $100: This wine honors Cathy Stoller, co-founder of this winery in the gorgeous Dundee Hills of the northern Willamette Valley, who died in 2011.
Best Chardonnay: Woodward Canyon Winery 2012 Chardonnay, Washington, $44: Winemaker Kevin Mott used grapes from the estate vineyard in the hills of the northern Walla Walla Valley, and he blended them with Chardonnay from Celilo Vineyard on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge.
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company.